“This post contains some affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, EcoCult receives a small percentage of the sale price. Some brands may have paid a small fee to be featured. We only recommend brands that we truly believe in. Support our editorial work by supporting them!”
Whether you frequent the gym or not, there is no denying that activewear is a wardrobe essential. It’s comfortable, adaptable, and easy to wear. But regardless of how widely loved it is, activewear is notorious for being made of plastics.
The climate crisis emphasizes our need to reduce the production of virgin synthetic fibers. In 2020, synthetic fibers reportedly made up 62% of global fiber production, and for those that don’t know, synthetic fibers are produced from petroleum- or coal-derived polymers. Small brands like Rescue Plastics, Girlfriend Collective, and Wolven are responding by using recycled polyester made of ocean-bound plastic and post-consumer plastic as the main fabric for its activewear, and some man-made materials like rayon/viscose are plant-based. However, if the manufacturing facility is not certified, by OEKO-TEX for example, rayon/viscose can be extremely chemical-intensive to manufacture. And synthetics are also notorious for shedding microplastics when washed. Smaller than the eye can see, these plastics contaminate our waterways, continuing the damage well after production.
Many people feel itchy after wearing synthetic fibers for some time. Plus synthetic fibers are more likely than natural fabrics to contain restricted substances such as chlorinated benzenes and toluenes, forbidden and disperse dyes, and organotin compounds. Polyester and nylon also tend to retain odor more than natural fibers. With enough wears, this odor can stick around even after washing.
So we decided to look into activewear that doesn’t include any plastic-based materials at all (recycled or not), and honestly, it was a lot more challenging than expected. Why? Because of Spandex. Spandex is a synthetic fiber consisting of around 85% polyurethane and is characterized by its ability to stretch drastically — up to 500% of its length — then recoil. This is why it’s continually used for stretchy, supportive activewear. But we did find you a couple 100% natural brands to choose from, too!
That being said, we didn’t give up our search. We found 10 brands that use over 90% natural fibers in their activewear. The key fabrics across the brands are organic cotton, bamboo viscose, and Tencel, all plant-based fibers which for the most part use fewer chemicals in production.
Groceries Apparel produces ethical and sustainable wardrobe essentials. Made locally in its LA-based factory, this low-impact activewear uses GOTS-certified organic cotton and eucalyptus-based Tencel lyocell. A core focus of the brand is non-toxic dyes. From its LA dye studio, Groceries Apparel upcycles food waste (our rejected groceries, get it?), like pomegranates, carrot tops, and onion skins, to achieve its vibrant colorways.
Arms of Andes is an outdoor apparel company rooted in the intersection of the founder’s Peruvian heritage and modern American life. Its activewear is made from 100% alpaca wool, which is sustainably sourced from family-run farms that still operate under traditional Peruvian techniques. The brand carries out its entire production in Peru, reducing the brand’s carbon footprint while boosting the local economy. Alpaca wool is thermo-regulating, quick-drying, and incredibly soft, and biodegradable—the perfect natural alternative for those who do all their exercising outside and on the mountain.
Asquith was founded in 2002 with a focus on yoga and pilates. Its activewear is made from OEKO-TEX-certified Bamboo Viscose and Bambor, a blend of organic cotton, bamboo viscose, and elastane. All of Asquith’s collections are responsibly made in a GOTS-certified factory in southern Turkey and its packaging is made from corn, sugar, and potato starch, making it biodegradable.
Eleven44 offers handmade organic cotton basics, loungewear, and athleisure. A family-operated business based in Bali, Eleven44 produces in small batches with a focus on capsule pieces. Eleven44’s activewear options are leggings, bike shorts, sports bras, and harem pants that are suitable for low to medium-impact exercise.
The Australian-born brand Boody prides itself on the integration of fibers that are made from organically grown bamboo certified by the Organic Cropped Improvement Association (OCIA), and USDA. Its activewear collection is made up of 13 pieces: tights, tanks, and sports bras made of bamboo viscose and GOTS-certified (when specified) organic cotton. The pieces are also ethically produced in factories that are under the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) certification and are up to Gold standards.
The mission of Reprise is to “keep plastic off of your body” and it achieves this by making activewear from plant-based fibers. Its tights, shorts, and sports bras are made up of Tencel, a type of low-impact lyocell that is made from eucalyptus trees grown in sustainably managed forests. Other products include GOTS and Fair Trade-certified organic cotton. Reprise invests in projects that offset carbon emissions in California, Cambodia, and Indonesia.
Icebreaker was founded in 1995 to shift the dependence outdoor apparel has on synthetic fibers. As of 2020, 91% of Icebreaker’s global fiber production is natural fibers, with a focus on OEKO-TEX-certified merino wool. Its goal is to be plastic-free by 2023. Its outdoor apparel is versatility-driven, so it is adaptable for numerous climates and activities. You can read Icebreaker’s last four years’ transparency reports, which break down its use of plastic throughout its products.
Buddha Pants is perfect for those looking for the 100% cotton alternative. The brand offers four different styles of harem-style pants and one harem-style jumpsuit. Originally a yoga and meditation pant, it’s adaptable to any occasion, depending on how you style it. Buddha Pants are ethically made between Miami Beach and Ho Chi Minh; it’s a great alternative to regular activewear if you are looking for completely fossil-fuel-free outfits.
Founded in 2017, Iron Roots creates plastic-free activewear with natural fabrics, such as hemp, TENCEL and organic cotton. These fabrics have unique properties, such as being antibacterial, antistatic and don’t release microplastic. Iron Roots reduces waste by designing a product to be made from a single fabric, by maximizing cutting efficiency and by using the same fabric for multiple products. It also doesn’t work with seasonal collections to not overproduce.